Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Intimate interactive performances using a series of rotating scenarios (and rotating players) to explore classic texts from a highly physical and psychological perspective. The company offer an alternative to bums on seats theatre than involves getting up close and personal with the performers, and will need to sort out important issues surrounding the audience opt-out mechanism. But those looking for a fresh route into Shakespeare just might have found one.
You know the opening moments of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, in which Derek Jacobi’s chorus flings open the doors onto the world of the play? Interactive theatre company Oneohone (get it?) are no doubt going for similar effects in the opening minutes of this piece, in which the company director pounds on the door to gain us entry, then ushers us into a small black box from which 15 or so people can suddenly be heard shouting, screaming, pounding the floor and hurling themselves at the walls in a riot of motivational aggression.
Into this tumult we step with one lifeline – a sash we’ve been asked to wear as a signal of our willingness to participate in the action, and which we are to remove if at any point we want or need to opt out.
Beyond that not much can be revealed about this short and varyingly sharp show without jeopardizing a potential audiences’ experience of the play. Suffice to say that Oneohone specialise in excavating the primal drives and raw emotions behind Shakespeare (and others)’s most well known plays with AS-level group psychology and more than a hint of turning the ‘what’s my motivation?’ workshop into the main show. On this occasion we get Romeo & Juliet, as we discover when a few carefully chosen lines are carried in on a seething tidal wave of violent, pumped-up hatred between what turn out to be the Montagues and Capulets. On this thematic tilt, the tragedy is less one of star-crossed lovers, more that of a hate-worshiping youth subculture. Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou so goddamn angry?
With such a build up you need the words, and not just the actors, to grab you in their fists. But as soon as this company of young, beautiful, American Apparel-styled Oxford graduates open their mouths, conviction and adrenaline fade. With a useful arrogance that serves them pretty well in their evocation of the two street-brawling houses, Oneohone are keen to confront Shakespeare head on. But when text is on the table they come off much the worst.
They need to work on this, and to agree amongst themselves a clearer strategy for dealing with audience members who choose to remove their sashes – one person in our audience did so and still found themselves tugged at to join in. You can almost hear their psychological agendas ticking, but they also need to be 100 per cent clear of what is happening physically at all times. You can’t always ‘go with it’ if you don’t know where to go.
There’s a strong spirit at work here, and with so many Fringe groups primly jostling to find a new route into Shakespeare, we admire the attempt to barge right in and slice him straight open. But no show hoping to make such a fierce impression should allow for the possibility that their audience, in the show’s freeform and potentially infinite final moments, are not frozen with shock or a new awareness of their moral responsibility, but simply awkwardly wondering whether or not it’s time to leave.